I had quite an interesting time helping out with the junior class last night. I don't usually know what I am going to be asked to do until I get there and the class has done the warm up. My instructor then tells me who he wants me to work with. This is fine when the task involves taking a couple of students through a particular kata, or if I am given a very specific task to do with clear instructions on how to do it.
However, the last couple of weeks I have been asked to take the new white belts to the back of the class and 'go through the syllabus' or 'teach them some basic blocking and punching'. I have then had them for the majority of the class. The problem for me with this is that I have had nothing prepared, no lesson plan and I've made it up on the hop! But six year olds get easily bored with just going through the syllabus and then they start moaning and fidgeting - then they start wandering away or messing about with each other.
So last night I went prepared! I had no idea until I got there whether I would be teaching the white belts again but just in case, I had some drills and tasks prepared that might make it a little more interesting and fun for my little charges.
In fact I had 5 white belt students - one new woman and four children aged between about 6 and 9 years. I had planned just to teach them the stances and techniques that they would need to know for their first kata, shihozuki. These are yoi, zenkutsu dachi, mawate, gedan barai and oi zuki.
I have noticed in previous weeks that a lot of white belt students have problems coordinating their arms properly for a gedan barai so I devised a drill using a belt to help them get the feel of the movement. Basically, I dangled a belt above their shoulder, clasping it in a way that would let it slide through my hands without falling when it was pulled. Their task was to reach up to their shoulder with the opposite hand, grab the belt and pull it down across the body to hip level - this hopefully emulated the movement of a downward block. The kids seemed to pick up on this quite well and were able to tug the belt quite sharply. We did this with both arms. We then repeated the task using only an 'imaginary' belt. On the whole they did pretty well, though there was still some confusion over pulling the non-blocking arm back into chamber so I might need to think a bit more about this.
We also tried doing the same drill but with a quarter turn to the left as the belt is pulled - this is the first step in the kata (turn left into zenkutsu dachi and perform a gedan barai). This was when I was reminded that young children don't have the same level of vocabulary as adults. I asked them to make a 90 degree turn to the left. One boy was extremely puzzled by this because degrees was something to do with oven temperature! I also came into a problem with the use of the word drill because that's something dad uses to put shelves up!
To get them to make a strong zenkutsu dachi I tried a pushing game. I got them to pair up and face each other standing in a left footed zenkutsu dachi. They then touched with their left palms together and on my count tried to push each other backwards. They soon found that success depended on getting a good bend on the front leg to push their weight forward and that if they had their feet in a line they were more wobbly and easier to push over. Well, it was fun and I think they understood what was being learned.
I found belts to be a very useful tool last night. We also used belts to learn the push/pull movement of a basic punch. Standing opposite a partner they had two belts and held one end of each in each hand. They then pull back with their left hand (causing their right arm to be pulled straight out in front of them). They then pulled back with their right arm and so on. I then got them to turn their hand over as it came back into chamber. We started in yoi and then progressed to standing in zenkutsu dachi. I was then going to progress to one partner stepping forwards in zenkutsu dachi as they pulled the belts to resemble an oi zuki punch but we were running out of time.
Overall, I think it went okay - I seemed to keep their interest for most of the time. We had to stop half way because they were desperate to learn how to tie a belt on and I realised we wouldn't be able to move on until they've had a go at this. Still, belt tying is on the white belt syllabus so it was useful even if it wasn't on my lesson plan!
Things I learn't about teaching young children:
1. They take a long time to get organised to start an activity - especially if it involves a partner
2. They are chatterboxes and like to tell you things, even if it is nothing to do with karate, so you have to keep bringing them back on task.
3. To get their attention you need to use their name - learning all the kids names is important.
4. They can get a little over boisterous when playing a push/pull games and you have to calm them down.
5. You never have time to complete the whole lesson plan - everything takes longer than you expect
6. You have to use language they understand but they have an amazing propensity to learn Japanese words!
7. They make you feel proud when they manage to do something well and are incredibly rewarding to teach (and occasionally frustrating).
Do you like teaching young children? Have you got any tips/ideas to share?
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